How to Be Lazy and Still Highly Effective

Ok, so that title…either it offended you or it drew you in so fast, that you were too quick to even feel that wave of shame. Either way, welcome.

It’s that time of year. You’re scraping one child from the ceiling while another scales the wall. Every other word out of you mouth is either “Stop…” or a “WHY” that isn’t even followed up by the rest of a question. Because at this point, when a child has scissors in his mouth days away from being an official fourth grader, “WHY” is sufficient. When one of your munchkins is making snow angels on the carpet during Read to Self “WHY” really gets your message across. When a little friend is loudly singing all the spelling words instead of just writing them in spelling stairs at Word Work, “WHY” is the correct response. Or maybe I’m just lazy.

For example, when you walk around the room and take pictures, and this is the collage you can make.

WHY

 

It’s okay though, I tell myself. We spend most of the year being the hardest working humans we can be for very little compensation for our time, and it’s exhausting. Gearing up for the school year months before it even begins, and then when it hits: meetings, kids, planning, meetings that interrupt planning, teaching, kids that interrupt teaching, bulletin boards, phone calls, emails, extra curriculums, weekend grading, 3am insomnia when the best lesson idea ever hits, more meetings. You get the idea. We’ve earned lazy.

It doesn’t mean we have to stop being effective though. Highly effective, even! We can still provide our kids with some pretty awesome stuff, but we don’t have to go home exhausted. Here’s the deal. For just about every situation in which you feel the need to be lazy, there’s a solution that won’t leave you totally wracked with guilt.

For When You Cannot Handle One More Argument at Read to Someone

All year long, I’ve given them the conflict resolution tools they need. We’ve talked about “I-messages” and better choices, and words that heal vs words that hurt, and “How can we tell someone we would like them to stop without yelling ‘shut up’?” and “Instead of throwing a pencil at your friend, what could you do when you notice you’re angry?” and “How about we compromise today?” At this point, my response to any and all arguments is “STOP”. Enter, lazy choice to avoid it all.

Technology. Oh the sweet, sweet joy of putting a child in front of a computer and handing them headphones. It’s like a pacifier, but better. Because we can still justify it all.

Oh, sweet silence.
Oh, sweet silence.

This group is on Tumble Books. My school has a subscription, which rocks. I let them explore books of their choice, with the rules that they must read one fiction and one nonfiction ABOVE their reading level. I explained that since the book is read to them, they can challenge themselves. The cool thing is, there are tons of genres, and the kids can pause, rewind, and start over as much as they need to. If I was feeling a little less lazy, I might assign something to them like a reading log. But lazy I was, this day, and no such log was assigned.

If you don’t have Tumble Books, you still have other options. For example, I got a one month trial to Get Epic, which is the same exact idea, although the selection seems much bigger. If you only have a month left in school, now is the time! Other sites that read books to kids include Story Online and Just Books Read Aloud. I’m sure there are more, but Google is your friend.

Anyway, I was actually SO tired of the arguing that I let them choose their own books. So it wasn’t really Read to Someone. On a less lazy day, I would make them choose a book together and discuss or complete some sort of log together or Roll and Retell activity.

Why You’re Still Highly Effective: The kids are engaging in reading complex texts of their choosing. If you assign a log, they’re practicing their reading and listening comprehension skills, along with writing! Boom! Done!

 

For When You Cannot Handle Giving Spelling Tests Anymore

I gave up on spelling. I did. Because I was tired of grading 35 spelling tests every Friday. I replaced it with grammar review and you should too. Why? Because we’ve already taught the skills, so it’s nothing brand new or stressful. (Aka: it requires little effort from all of us. Yay.) It’s reinforcing old skills and the novelty keeps them relatively quiet. Also, it gets rid of magazines that I’ve been hoarding. The downside is you lose 12 glue sticks a day somehow. I don’t get it. Do they EAT the glue sticks?

Bye bye, magazines I failed to properly use!
Bye bye, magazines I failed to properly use!

Idea is pretty basic. Hand blank pages stapled together. Each day, they hunt for pictures representing a different part of speech. We did three days of nouns (people, places, things….all different days!), adjectives, and verbs. They cut out the picture and label it. Done!

Why You’re Still Highly Effective: Reviewing old material, even if your intentions are laziness, is still good practice and has many benefits. Plus, they’re going beyond worksheets and they’re applying what they know. It’s win-win for everyone, especially their next teacher, who may have one less thing to review in the new school year.

For When You Cannot Handle Sitting at Teacher Time Any Longer

Like every other teacher, I’ve spent all year slaving away at this center. It’s when we’ve really fine tuned the hard stuff, worked on our fluency, searched for evidence like real life detectives, answered hard questions, and dug deep in all sorts of reading materials. Time to take a step back and let them soar. I provide the materials, support, facilitate, and then…walk away and keep everyone else on task at other centers.

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The three pictures above capture what that “I’ve given you what you need, now work,” idea looks like for my kids. We were reading The One and Only Ivan, which I chose because it was easy enough to read on their own, but it had such deep meanings, that I would still be passionate enough about the text, to not leave them alone for long. Playing mind games with myself has benefits.

In the first picture, the kids are responding to a given event from that day’s readings. Doesn’t require me sitting there.

In the second picture, the kids are reading and coding an article that deals with an issue related to the main issue in the novel. Doesn’t require me sitting there.

In the third picture, the kids are partner reading. The plot diagram, pages to be read, and vocabulary words for that day are laid out for them, and are ready to be matched up by them when they are done. Doesn’t require me sitting there. 

Why You’re Still Highly Effective: The kids are reading and following a routine that, assuming you aren’t so lazy that you fail to plan for it, requires some sort of task or response. Obviously, you’re still monitoring and intervening if you notice you are needed, and you’re offering input here and there, but you aren’t married to that teacher seat. You’ve done that all year and they have the tools they need. You’re giving the kids control and responsibility, and that’s kind of really important.

 

For When You Cannot Handle Monitoring Read to Self Any Longer

Again, let’s enter technology. Here, the laptops are in use again. If your school uses a specific reading program (we use iReady for example), this is the perfect replacement for Read to Self on those days when it’s just not happening. Again though, if you don’t have this program, you could use any of the reading sites listed above.

All is calm, all is bright...
All is calm, all is bright…

Why You’re Still Highly Effective: What’s more effective than utilizing a program your school or district pays out the butt for with technology they paid for? Enough said.

For When You Cannot Handle Doing Centers/Daily 5 Any Longer

Ok, this happened on Friday. I’m not ashamed, because I did it right.

Watch the colorful lights dance across the board, children. Oh, the joy!
Watch the colorful lights dance across the board, children. Oh, the joy!

Sometimes it’s okay to show a video! It really is! This interestingly enough, requires a bit less laziness if you want to feel good about what you’re doing. I make the kids work for the video first. Here, the kids are engrossed in the episode of Liberty’s Kids where George Washington takes command of the Continental Army. We’ve been using Liberty’s Kids as a reward throughout the year, so we’ve learned quite a bit already about what lead up to the Revolutionary War. Obviously you’d have to start at the beginning if this is brand new for your kids.

First, we read an article that I typed up and divided into fourths. Then, we chunked it using a Four Square and took notes.

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This is a strategy we’ve used before, but it’s also very simple to introduce. Simply go fourth by fourth, reading and taking notes on the important stuff. We talk about how this makes summarizing SO much easier and is a strategy they can use with any text at any time, to make their lives easier.

Ok, so that was an easy 30 minutes. Then we brought our Four Squares to the floor. Every time they saw something on the video that was also in their notes, they put a star or check mark. This helped them relate one activity to the next, but also gave them something to DO while watching. They enjoyed their video time, I enjoyed the peace and quiet, and felt good knowing they were still learning and keeping their brains active.

Why You’re Still Highly Effective: If you’re showing a video that is within one of the contents, then score one already. If they have background knowledge and it’s something you’ve been working on all year long, then that’s another plus. Including the article and a note-taking strategy beforehand is still easier for you then running centers, but it’s good stuff and far from the fluff we could be throwing at them.

Phew. So to recap: technology, new and engaging tactile activities, staying organized from the beginning and letting kids own their learning, and videos. Obviously I’m not advocating taking such a relaxed approach very often, but we all have had those days when we need a backup plan. If you play your cards right and have a legitimate plan, you’ve set yourself up for success in Lazy Town for those days when you just.cannot.handle.it.

Speaking of lazy, I think I have a product that will suit those lazy needs.

Reading Log Preview

I’m giving away one set of these CCSS Aligned Meaningful Reading Logs that I just posted to TPT to the first one who comments and lets me know: What’s the absolute worst lazy teacher moment you’ve ever had?

 

Alternative Seating – an update on the Yoga-fied Classroom.

Last week, I posted in complete excitement about finding out I got to take a class set of yoga balls into my room to replace my boring, ugly chairs. I was told (perhaps with some amusement) that I was the perfect candidate to try out this experience, which to my knowledge, is done only in a few other classrooms within my county. The kids’ came in the next morning and the squeals filled the room. Love.

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But then it was time to get to work! Oh yes, that part of school.

So what does a Yoga-fied Classroom look like, with little kids flooding the room? Something like this.

On the morning the munchkins first laid eyes on their new seats. Balancing quite nicely!
On the morning the munchkins first laid eyes on their new seats. Balancing quite nicely!
yoga balls
Working well with partners during Intervention time. Still, nobody has fallen and smashed their face. Success?
yoga balls
Working hard during Writer’s Workshop. You can see the purple rings stacked so nicely for their OCD teacher. Then there are the yellow rings. I may have tripped over them, sending them flying. Still, didn’t smash my face.
Finishing up our first class novel, and doing an awesome job sitting EEEK and helping each other track the words.
Finishing up our first class novel, and doing an awesome job sitting EEEK and helping each other track the words.
I promise that my little friend on the left isn't nearly as distressed as she looks. Reading is just hard work sometimes!
I promise that my little friend on the left isn’t nearly as distressed as she looks. Reading is just hard work sometimes!

So, it looks good, no? I’ve had one kid fall so far, but the rest have stayed perfectly balanced. Some have had some *near* falls, but caught themselves just in time. It’s good. We’re fine-tuning reflexes here. Which is actually kind of good for them.

You may be wondering why I’m so nuts though, as to take this on without any real guarantee that the kids would be able to handle it. But I did my research.

While studies have not been too extensive yet, this is what research has found so far:

  • Sitting on therapy balls improved behavior and legibility in a study on ADHD students
  • Therapy balls strengthen core muscles, which kids severely lack in comparison with kids raised in the 80s
  • Being in motion is connected with engagement and focus, especially for our ADHD babies, but truly for all of our wiggly friends
  • Excess energy is naturally burned off while just balancing, which can reduce disruptions

And here’s what I have found in my two blocks in particular:

  • The kids are incredibly more engaged when at their tables, more equal to their engagement when they are cozying up on the floor with me for whole group reading time.
  • My most severely ADHD, unmedicated child is way less likely to call out, get up without permission, or otherwise engage in fidgety and disruptive behaviors while sitting on a yoga ball (these behaviors return as soon as this child is on the floor during group time, though *sigh*).
  • My second block, the more hyper of both, is ridiculously more quiet during Writer’s Workshop while sitting on the yoga balls. I thought it was my imagination until several others made the same comment to me while in my classroom.
  • My ASD babies show a lot less anxiety while using the yoga balls.
  • Test scores on the most recent one were higher than usual, with no real difference in level of rigor.

Here is how I got them started, though. Before they walked in on the first day back, I told them that there was a fun surprise inside that they absolutely could not touch until we all talked about the rules. They unpacked and immediately sat on the rug up front. They generated a list of “appropriate” and “not appropriate” ways to use the yoga balls with their partners. Then we discussed.

The three main rules we came up with were:

1. Bottoms on the yoga ball.

2. Feet on the floor.

3. Bounce calmly.

We talked about “excessive bouncing” and yes, we demonstrated examples of that silliness. Then we contrasted that with normal, calm bouncing needed to get wiggles out and stay balanced.

And then I hit them with “No-Exception Consequences” (which required explaining) and it goes like this:

  • Fall off once, and you’re using a regular chair for 15 minutes, even if it was an accident. Falling off is a sign that we need to try harder to be safe.
  • Fall off again in one day, and you’re in a regular chair for the rest of the day. When you have a minute, look around and see what your friends are doing to be safe.
  • Repeated misuse of the yoga ball = bye-bye to the ball and hello to a regular chair until the teacher is convinced you can be more responsible.

So far, I’ve had to take away a yoga ball a total of 3 times (for 15 minutes) amongst my 34 total kids. Each time, it was really only for breaking one of the three main rules, such as having feet up on the sides and not on the floor or being overly bouncy. None of them have tried anything crazy. I’m just being ridiculously strict about the rules for at least another few weeks, until a habit of safety has been formed.

And truly, we don’t even spend much time at our tables. We are still spending plenty of time in other parts of the room during the day.

Time on the rug is my favorite!
Time on the rug is my favorite!
word work
Word Work is a kid favorite, for sure.

Overall verdict so far: we are enjoying the Yoga-fied Classroom experience. The kids are happy, focused, and learning. I’m enjoying their ability to burn off energy in a less obnoxious way. And my classroom just feels a lot more fun. 🙂

Thoughts? If your administration was on board, would you be willing to try out this kind of “experiment”? Or is this just a bit too much for you?

Oh yes, this happened today. Yoga balls in the classroom!

Came back to an interactive white board and then was offered these babies to replace my chairs. Whatttt?? Yes, please!

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Today was a teacher workday, but tomorrow will be the big reveal to the kids. I cannot WAIT to see their reactions.

Research really supports the use of alternative seating in the classroom, and luckily I have an open-minded principal who is SO into this kind of stuff. I’m looking forward to sharing information about how this ends up working in the classroom! I know it’ll be a lot of work to get them adjusted and consistently using them properly, but for now, I’m just going to revel in the excitement.

New Year’s Sale and a Black History Month Give-Away!

Happy New Year! It’s hard to believe our beloved Winter Break is nearing its end already. But hopefully you’re feeling rejuvenated and ready to go back to your little munchkins.

To celebrate, I’m throwing a 3 day sale! Just click on the picture below to get linked to my TPT store.

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Miss-Sammi

 

I’m also happy to share my newest product, just in time to get ourselves ready to celebrate Black History Month.

http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Black-History-Month-Passages-with-Coded-Evidence-Questions-Grades-3-5-1626965

 

So I’ve created a set of passages that have several purposes. This packet is created mainly with my 3rd graders in mind. (This packet would also be ideal for struggling 4th and 5th grade readers, though.)

The packet contains 10 passages. One passage simply introduces some history explaining why we even have Black History Month by touching on the struggles faced by black Americans throughout our history. After that passage, there are 9 others. Each of those passages focuses on a historical figure who helped bring change to our country. The passages are short and sweet, and to the point, which is necessary for my kids. This makes it easy to conduct close reads too! All paragraphs are numbered. Each passage ends with 4 questions, which are CCSS aligned. The first three always require coding their evidence, and the 4th is always more opened ended and thought-provoking. I did it this way to meet not just the CCSS requirements, but also to help teachers differentiate instruction based on the strengths of their kiddos.

On Sunday night, I’ll be happy to give this away to a random commenter who shares their wonderful ideas by answering this: How have you taught Black History Month in the past? Are you going to change things up this year? If so, how?

Happy Holidays!

As Winter Break nears, and our sanity slowly disappears (I told “Paragraphs 1 and 2” to line up this week. That’s almost the same thing as “Tables 1 and 2”), I wanted to be sure to wish everyone a very happy holiday this season.

To celebrate in our class, I thought for a bit. I’m far from rich. My fiance and I are counting every penny these days as our March wedding approaches. But I wanted to get something for my babies. My babies who ask for very little and mostly work very hard. My babies who, more often than not, come from homes with parents who cannot afford to buy them gifts. My babies, some of whom start conversations saying to me, “You know how when you go to a new foster family, you have to go to the doctor? That’s why I’m late today. I’m okay!” My babies who excitedly say, “The staff at my shelter let me put the star on the top of the tree.” My babies who say, “I couldn’t come to school yesterday because my mom was really sick from chemotherapy.” My babies who come to school with dirty clothes most days, and on clean days, tell me “I was up late last night because my mom got paid. So we went to the laundromat.” My babies who in their personal narratives, write things like, “I visit my mom at the cemetery on her birthday. I miss her.” My babies who have dealt with more in their eight years, than I have in my 25.

I thought about what they needed. I can’t bring all 34 home and feed them and love on them and give them the ponies and unicorns they so deserve. So my next step was books. I was originally going to do the dollar book deal, but when I thought about my wide range of readers (everything from friends reading at a K level to a 5th), I knew I had to do something different. I picked a book for each kid based on what I know about their interests and what I normally see them pick from my library. 10402719_10154887108840268_5226220719277498967_n

Then I wrapped it all up.

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And placed it under our tree. And let them stare at it for a day. IMG_5484

Finally, they got to open their “presents”. I knew they would be excited because something was wrapped and had their names on it. What I did not anticipate, was the utter joy and excitement. I did not anticipate fists being pumped into the air as a child who had just whispered to himself, “I hope it’s a Lego book” ripped open the paper and found just that inside. (Seriously child, I know you. I know your life revolves around Legos. Of course I got you a Lego book.) I did not anticipate squeals of joy. I did not anticipate being bombarded with children begging, “Can we read our books NOW?” And when I of course, gave in and told them to find a comfortable spot in the room to read, I did not anticipate that they would scramble and cuddle up to each other. And share. They shared what they had. They read their notes from me to each other. They said sweetly, “You got a different note from me. Ms. T, you wrote us all different notes?” I did not anticipate that kids who got books from the same series would sit together and take turns reading from their books and discussing their characters. (And then in fact, I watched as they discovered maps and overheard things like“My fairy is special because ______. What does your fairy do?” which meant they were naturally comparing and contrasting, and then things like “My character lives on this island. Where does your character live?” And then they searched on the illustrated map and used text features without knowing, and my Teacher Heart grew 10 sizes.)

More than anything, I did not realize how much joy these kids have brought me until these moments. I don’t know if it’s the grade, or this particular crew. Some of them drive me nuts quite a bit. Saying otherwise would be a lie. All kids are often very gifted at driving adults nuts here and there. But there is not one single child who has not touched my heart in some way. And this holiday season, I hope they do a lot of things. I hope they read. I hope they play. But most of all, I hope they feel safe and loved and appreciated for the amazing little humans that they are.

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And this season, I hope all of you teachers feel appreciated for the heroic work you do every single day.

Happy Holidays, teachers. ❤

What does an organized classroom look like by December, anyway??

Let me preface this post by saying that I’ve extended my December sale through Sunday! Right now, you can get EVERYTHING in my store for 15% off the normal price. Because really, who doesn’t love a sale? Head on over. See if anything grabs your eye! 🙂

This post is inspired by all the times I’ve visited teacher blogs in August, drooled over their rooms, and then wondered to myself “That’s ridiculously lovely. How long does it stay that lovely?” So here’s to those of you who have wondered those same things.

I took these pictures this morning before the munchkins came in like their usual hurricane-like selves. It was actually kind of cool to put them side-by-side with beginning of the year pictures and see how some things worked great, and some things–while great in theory–immediately needed fixing.

Biggest example? The cubbies. The top picture below (and left picture in the one below this) is from August, and the one on the bottom (and right in the one below this) is from today.

cubbies

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As I’ve talked about before, I teach only ELA/SS. Therefore, I have two blocks of third graders throughout the day. Originally, I thought “Well, I kicked the desks out of this room and demanded tables, so they can learn to share one bin.” Then they arrived and I was like “LOL yeah, ok.” I am lucky enough to work in a county that at least gives some kind of stipend. However, that stipend arrived well into the school year starting. And it was on a debit card, so I couldn’t go grab as much as wine as I wanted with that money. Disappointment City. But then I headed on over to Really Good Stuff (or as I think of it, Really Expensive But Adorable Stuff) and picked up all of these bins. This has made a world of difference and we are no longer accidentally using the books and belongings of other friends!

Also filed under the category of “Sharing Is Nice In Theory But That’s About It”, our writing and spelling journals:

journals

 

That stipend money went toward replacing and adding to the bins for journals. The bottom set is for Block 2. One day, I will make them pretty number labels too. Until then, they get ugly sticker labels. Poor babies.

Another big change is how we kind of had to get rid of our writing center. We now do Writer’s Workshop instead. So this board holds anchor charts for our workshop genre. Right now, we are learning how to write informational articles. This Ikea table has become even more of a prized seating spot now that it’s not a daily center.

writeboard

 

ELA Focus board has changed a bit too! Less clutter!

elafocus

 

We figured out what the most important parts of each cycle were, and have decided to narrow our focus. The ELA board is easier for the kids to reference now, as only the most important ideas are up there, like the comprehension skill and strategy, title, grammar skill, and spelling words. You can also see how the Work on Writing center is gone as a choice! 😦

Another big change is that I went from absolutely nothing to display anything on, to a really big TV on a big clunky cart. I really shouldn’t complain, but. Clunky. That said, it does the trick and makes things much easier on the kids. No more squinting at a tiny computer screen.

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IMG_4929 Here, the kids take notes while dressed up as FBI agents, ballerinas, and football players.

Still, there is one part of the room that has not had to change yet!

library

Contact paper is holding strong on the bookshelves, and that rug is in year 2 of looking bright and happy and wonderful. The books on top of the shelf are a part of Read to Someone. This week, the kids learned about the Northwest and the hardships of pioneers. And then I told them the story of Oregon Trail Day in school and they were like “….?” Then they laughed at me. 

And now that we are just weeks away from every kid’s favorite holiday? Lights everywhere!

frontboard

It’s hard to believe we are just about half-way through the year, and that every day that passes, I am that much closer to watching my itty bitty babies become big almost-4th graders! Sadness!

Anyway! What kind of transformations has your room undergone this year? What did you try out, that you found totally did NOT work? What has worked perfectly? On Sunday night, one random commenter will get to choose one item from my store for free. 🙂

 

I’m going on a…text feature hunt! Freebie ahead!

It’s been a while, so I figured I would start this off with a freebie. Head over to my TPT store to grab the Text Feature Hunt Freebie, which I’m going to explain right about….now.

Ok, so this past month, it was time to really get my kids understanding and using text features as they read. I’ve talked about text features nonstop since the beginning of the year, but we finally came across a text in Reading Street that heavily focused on text features. It was the perfect opportunity to get my kids on a hunt for text features. It was too much fun to see the lightbulbs go off as they realized “So, I HAVE looked at graphs before!” or “So that’s called a subheading, huh? Never knew!”

After introducing the topic, going through some examples together, and finishing up whole group instruction for the day, it was time for them to go on their hunts. I had them complete this worksheet in 2 days at Read to Self. (I could go on a separate rant about how I like Read to Self to simply involve kids reading a book they enjoy as research shows that is one of the biggest factors in creating fluent and happy readers, but how I was told that did not require enough “rigor”, so now I have to give them tasks to do, but I can leave that for another post.)

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Anyway! On the first day, they completed the left side. Their job was pretty simple. They picked a Time For Kids magazine (I had several issues available to them, as some magazines did not have graphs, but others did, for example) and then flipped through the whole thing. Every time they came across one of the features, they tallied it. On a side note, I had to help out their math teacher and review tallies, as some claimed to have never heard of it before, even though they took a test months ago on tallies.

This would have been incredibly difficult for them, but I created a flip book for them. You can see a few examples in the product preview below. I printed out, laminated, and punched holds in the sides. I used a binder ring to keep them all together. This was ridiculously exciting for them, for reasons I won’t even try to understand, because they were excited and that’s all I cared about.

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You can see this tallying in action with my adorable little munchkins, who will happily work anywhere other than their tables. I love looking around the room during centers and seeing them working feverishly in the most cramped, awkward places. Ah, to be 8 again!

Text Feature Hunt 1 Text Feature Hunt 2 Text Feature Hunt 3

As you can see, they really relied on the flip book. And that’s exactly what I wanted them to do, rather than guess and hope for the best.

The next day, they completed the right side of the worksheet. They went back and picked their 4 favorite text features and titled the box with the name of that feature. They drew a quick picture to show what they were looking at, and then explained how it helped them. I had to encourage them to be specific, and use the flip book to remind themselves of how each feature is helpful, but they did get there on their own eventually. Most did, at least!

By the end of the week, they were pretty good at explaining a good amount of text features to each other and me. Overall assessment? They enjoyed the discovery process and the idea of a “hunt”. I mean, let’s just say there was an audible gasp when I announced they were going on a hunt AND got to use a flip book. More and more reasons to adore third grade.

I hope your babies get a kick of this simple idea just as mine did! And if you are so inclined, I am throwing a sale with TPT Monday and Tuesday. Everything in my store is 20% off for two fantastic days!

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Take a look around and enjoy your shopping spree! 🙂